Evaluation of a rapid biosensor tool for measuring PAH availability in petroleum-impacted sediment
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Decades of research have shown that the concentration of freely dissolved PAH (Cfree) in sediment correlates with PAH bioavailability and toxicity to aquatic organisms.

Passive sampling techniques and models have been used for measuring and predicting Cfree, respectively, but these techniques require weeks for analytical chemical measurements and data evaluation. This study evaluated the performance of a portable, field-deployable antibody-based PAH biosensor method that can provide measurements of PAH Cfree within a matter of minutes using a small volume of mechanically-extracted sediment porewater. Four sediments with a wide range of PAHs (ΣPAH 2.4 to 307 mg/kg) derived from petroleum, creosote, and mixed urban sources, were analyzed via three methods: 1) bulk chemistry analysis; 2) ex situ sediment passive sampling; and 3) biosensor analysis of mechanically-extracted sediment porewater. Mean ΣPAH Cfree determined by the biosensor for the four sediments (3.1 to 55 µg/L) were within a factor of 1.1 (on average) compared to values determined by the passive samplers (2.0 to 52 µg/L). All mean values differed by a factor of 3 or less. The biosensor was also useful in identifying sediments that are likely to be non-toxic to benthic invertebrates. In two of the four sediments, biosensor results of 20 and 55 µg/L exceeded a potential risk-based screening level of 10 µg/L, indicating toxicity could not be ruled out. PAH Toxic Units (ΣTU) measured in these two sediments using the passive sampler Cfree results were also greater than the ΣTU threshold of 1 (6.7 and 5.8, respectively), confirming the conclusions reached with the biosensor. In contrast, the other two sediments were identified as non-toxic by both the biosensor (3.1 and 4.3 µg/L) and the passive sampler (ΣTUs of 0.34 and 0.039). These results indicate that the biosensor is a promising tool for rapid screening of sediments potentially-impacted with PAHs.

Publication Summary

  • Geosyntec Authors: Jason Conder, Steven Sande, Michael Healey
  • All Authors: Jason Conder, Steven Sande, Michael Healey, Geosyntec Consultants; Mehregan Jalilizadeh, Exponent; Hong Luo, Amanda Bess, Chevron Energy Technology Company; and Michael Unger, Virginia Institute of Marine Science
  • Title: The Environmental Advances Journal
  • Event or Publication: Event
  • Practice Areas: Sediment Assessment and Remediation
  • Citation: Jason Conder, Ph.D. (California), Steven Sande, and Michael Healey, (Ontario) coauthored an article entitled “Evaluation of a rapid biosensor tool for measuring PAH availability in petroleum-impacted sediment” for publication in Environmental Advances on January 6, 2021.
  • Date: January 6, 2021
  • Publication Type: Journal Article